Y’all, we know—it’s been a long year and a half since COVID-19 reached our shores and forever changed our world. In the past 18 months, we have sheltered-in-place, grieved over lost friends, family and relationships, found new hobbies, beat our heads against the wall in frustration over not being able to freely enjoy life outside our homes, and become increasingly traumatized by a world spinning ever out of our control. That existential angst was bound to find its way into our wardrobes, and while for some of us that meant pledging our allegiance to sweatsuits and Crocs as we increasingly forgot how to dress for social interactions, for others, it seems to have translated to pushing the boundaries of what can even be considered fashion, likely as an outsized expression of some subliminal urge to just...be free.
Case in point: the 2021 MTV VMAs red carpet—which, on the whole, had us vacillating between “Why did you even bother?” and “What in the absolute hell were you thinking?” This year, we weren’t flanking the red carpet to ask (as if we would’ve dared, even if we were), so we’re left to draw our own conclusions. For instance, as I write this, Contributing entertainment and fashion writers Bella Morais and Shanelle Genai are commiserating on the misery that was Sunday night’s red carpet, because, just...why?
Bella: “I was shaking my head the whole time too, Sis...Why, just why?”
Shanelle (looking at a photo): “Is that her bewty cheek?”
Bella: “Does Nick Cannon even need to be here?”
Shanelle: “What even is a Camilla Cabello?”
Granted, there were a few bright spots—perennial style stars Ciara and JLo didn’t disappoint; neither did a sleek and radiant Simone Biles. Billy Porter was suited, booted and not-to-be foiled—and neither was Normani’s breast-plated performance look. And our favorite bop-producing internet troll, Lil Nas X, never fails to entertain; the above were among our very brief list of faves for the night; see below.
But there were far more folks who looked like their clothing had been caught in a shredder en route to the Barclays Center Sunday night—or worse, a gimmick generator. There were the customary shock-and-awe outfits, a few throwbacks that didn’t quite land and a few folks who clearly thought they were doing something, only to find someone else doing it, too. For instance, we love Normani, but surely she and Winnie Harlow didn’t intend to have a “Who Wore It Best?” moment. Meanwhile, why were there so many Burlesque Barbie moments on stage? And were Doja Cat’s increasingly outrageous ensembles meant to distract from her hosting skills?
Were we always this rote? This blatantly thirsty for attention, with taste so bad it’s now—dare I say, boring? The obvious answer is, of course, yes. In the 40 years of MTV’s history, “doing too much” has been its silent motto, much to our collective delight. But after 18 months in which most of us have had to live vicariously through the frequently tested and thoroughly vaxxed few whose careers require making appearances, is it too much to ask that doing too much just felt like...more?
Of course, part of the issue is that even in the midst of New York Fashion Week, for many, fashion has understandably become even more trivial, in the context of so many more pressing issues. But for the rest of us who still welcome the great escapism of a great fashion moment, the most common response to the 2021 MTV VMAs was: I want my MTV. (Again: see the meh, the bad, and the outright ugly below.)